What Does Engagement Really Mean?

As this newsletter celebrates its one-year anniversary, I thought it would be appropriate to get back to some basics. During the course of 50-plus articles, Hispanic marketing experts have discussed a variety of subjects ranging from acculturation to the macro-economy to e-commerce. However, I don't think enough time has been spent introducing the powerful concept of engagement that is the foundation of this column.

First, a definition. As with any recent marketing term, there are many definitions out there for engagement. However, I think Forrester Research has summarized it best as follows:

Engagement is measured as the level of involvement, interaction, intimacy and influence a customer has for or with a brand over time.

Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Yet I would argue that the concept of engagement has ushered in a new paradigm in the advertising world - one that has dramatically changed how marketing and advertising need to work in 2009 and beyond for both the general and Hispanic markets.

The term engagement is a result of marketers' efforts to navigate the brave new world of advertising. Engagement manifests itself most clearly with the collision of two of the most established paradigms of the marketing world - the awareness model (expressed through the concepts of "reach and frequency") and the marketing funnel - that have, for the most part, been irrelevant in 2009.

At some point we have all spoken about creating "awareness." In fact, most of us have probably spent more than a few years and more than a few dollars developing programs built around the concept of awareness - trying to get "top of mind" with certain target audiences. The way we've probably gone about this is through some controlled expression of a brand that we anticipate will change "hearts and minds" with the right message delivered at the proper reach and frequency. Sound familiar?

Unfortunately, in today's consumer-driven media world, this model does not work. Consumers filter out "one-way" messages as noise. That's of course if they are even consuming the media you are depending on to reach them. Although the Hispanic media landscape has evolved more slowly than the general market, these transformational shifts in media consumption are reverberating throughout the U.S. Hispanic community.

The marketing funnel, while still useful in some instances, generally misses the boat of the new consumer-driven marketing world we live in. Why? For one, consumers' trust in traditional media has significantly diminished. More and more people are looking to their peers, who are now more vocal than ever, for information. The primary role of advertising is now about creating conversations. Therefore, the ultimate goal of getting someone down a linear path from awareness to transaction no longer fits nicely into a funnel. The funnel fails to capture the bi-directional conversation and asymmetrical influence of peers.

When looking at the Hispanic consumer, I would argue that the influence of peers, which is driven by network effort, is only multiplied as a result of Hispanics' organically larger social networks (family, friends, all those "primos," etc.). Add to this data that shows that Hispanics over-index in social media activity (whether it's social networking, blogging or simply creating and sharing content), and it's clear that Hispanics are influenced and influence others more than their general market brethren.

The good news is that engagement measures what we need to focus on moving forward. Going back to Forrester, it outlined a four-part model that can be used to measure the interaction of consumers with brands and how to track it:

  • Involvement tracks site visitors, time spent, page views, reach, frequency, media impressions, etc.
  • Interaction measures the contributions to blogs, content creation and uploads, and purchases.
  • Intimacy monitors consumer attitudes, perceptions and feelings about a brand through surveys, service calls and brand studies.
  • Influence measures the likelihood that consumers will recommend or advocate products or brands. Summarized well with gauges such as Net Promoter Indexes (NPi), brand affinities, etc.

More simply put, involvement, interaction, intimacy and influence sum up how much time a consumer spends with your brand. The more time spent with a brand, chances are, the greater the affinity for that brand.

This engagement model is not new and has been championed for a number of years by digital agencies. As digital agencies increase in prominence and the efficiencies and models used in digital advertising spread to traditional advertising it is inevitable that engagement will increase in prominence.

In the Hispanic advertising business, the effects of this paradigm shift toward engagement are popping up all around us. Whether its Hispanic agencies forgoing their corporate Web sites for Facebook pages or the growing "Latinos in Social Media" ( movement, Hispanic advertising is quickly moving to engagement.

6 comments about "What Does Engagement Really Mean? ".
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  1. Julian Posada, August 20, 2009 at 2:20 p.m.

    Good article I agree that this is where Hispanic marketing is moving toward. However I believe that traditional media still has a strong influence in the Hispanic community if it is produced with high quality and integrity.


  2. Marcelo Salup from Iffective LLC, August 20, 2009 at 3:06 p.m.

    If there is one term that trascends all divides, it is engagement, a term that has been misused so many times it isn't even funny.

    I have two bones to pick with your evaluation first:

    1. Your definition of involvement: Involvement tracks site visitors, time spent, page views, reach, frequency, media impressions, etc.

    You mix too many things. Reach, frequency and media impressions, for one, are purely mathematical constructs that measure efficiency, but not the effectiveness of the communication. You can reach 100%, say, of Women 19-49 and still not make an impression and fail miserably.

    Case in point (and just in the news), the new Colgate product, Wisp. Every media plan showed 80% or more reach. Every media plan was judged to be adequate. The product has failed, pulling only $9.3 million in sales.

    The reach was there, the impressions was there. The communication/persuasion wasn't.

    And that is one thing that is missing from your definition, the creative product.

    Also, you seem to limit involvement to digital media, when it is a concept that should be applied to all media. In traditional media, for example, it is easy enough to track time spent as a % of the total duration of the program and see whether the program is involving. However, this won't tell you enough about the advertising. But involvement ought to be applied to advertising run in any medium

    2. Many of these measurements are not going to be derived from existing data... and that lies at the heart of the problem.

    If Intimacy monitors consumer attitudes, perceptions and feelings about a brand through surveys, service calls and brand studies... then the only way to understand it is to do the studies.

    So far, clients have avoided the expense, agencies have avoided the expense and thus, for most advertisers, there is just no knowledge at all.

    My final thought is that engagement alone doesn't explain enough. One can be engaged in something, but not persuaded.

    You could be very engaged in a Porsche 911 Turbo S4 ad, for example, but not persuaded that the value proposition is enough to go into debt for it.

    You could be very engaged in a Nike ad, but not be persuaded enough to buy them the next time instead of, say, Puma or Adidas

    At some point, we need to accept the fact that marketing and advertising ARE complex things. Economics bear into it (can I afford it?), engagement bears into it (do I care?), persuasion is necessary (am I moved into action?)

    Simplistic solutions like "awareness" (which has no strong correlation to sales), "funnels" (everyone is in a different stage of any funnel, so that there are millions of funnels floating around) and even behavior (how many of us fly American Airlines but still hate them?) don't explain much.

    It is time to forget about KISS and embrace complexity

  3. Luis Jimenez from @luchito, August 20, 2009 at 10:58 p.m.

    Man, there was so much good stuff in the article and Marcelo's comment that I had to read both twice.

    Great article, Jose, probably the best one for this newsletter - fitting way to celebrate its first bday.

    Marcelo, I don't agree with the Colgate Wisp example. In my opinion it's the product that failed - the media plans were destined to fail regardless of reach, frequency or putting lipstick on that pig. But you do bring up a good point about creative playing an important role in the equation.

    Engagement and affinity to a brand will likely lead to people having discussions about the brand and, depending on the perceived sentiment as a whole, it may persuade people to purchase that brand or not. Gap for example has opted not to buy TV and instead spend its money on Facebook. Why? Because it's looking to engage core influencers with hopes of creating brand advocates. All traditional media efforts accompanying the campaign will drive to this Facebook presence. The creative is not meant to persuade to a purchase action, it will likely create fodder that will spread through the network and spark life into a sagging brand by way of purchase intent.

    Finally, a consumer will never be persuaded to purchase something they can't afford. They can, however, be influenced to have an opinion about the product and that opinion may reach a consumer, at the right time, who is willing and able to purchase the product.

  4. Louis Pagan from Hispanicize, August 21, 2009 at 12:50 a.m.

    Great article. It sounds like in the comments Marcelo is trying to measure or fit 'engagement' into a definition that can be easily defined via a metric.

    Engagement is a hands off approach to advertisement and enters into the world of permission marketing and Brand loyality.

  5. Javier von Westphalen, August 21, 2009 at 1:15 a.m.

    Jose good and thought provoking post. The jury still out on how to measure engagement and Forrester provides a starting point and how to gauge the engagement level. Engagement is creating a social experience through conversation and humanizing the brand. As in the offline world, online members will participate by listening, talking, connecting and promoting or advocating a product, service or brand to leave a lasting impression and ultimately sales conversation through peer influence. The measurement model might have some weakness; however, it provides marketers and advertisers a base to understand how the community or target audience interacts and to develop a strategy. Why develop a social network, if the majority of the target audience or community participates by reading and few commenting on blogs?

    Regarding the media mix, marketers need to start thinking as an integrated program and not in silos. Each media channel has to complement the other one to achieve an overall objective.

  6. Ivan Cevallos from Ethos Group Inc., September 4, 2009 at 10:21 p.m.

    Great insight in all comments and Jose. I would like to bring the point of view of a media buying group. This is from a conversation I had a few days ago. Corporations in both the general and Hispanic markets are still seeing significant lift after running campaigns on TV. Other media platforms have not performed as well in the last year. I recognize the growth on online, search and display but as you optimize an offline media buy and a dollar spend in that media brings you a bigger lift than online, old media will continue to take the bulk of the budgets.

    With regards to the engagement topic, traditional media understands its importance and two elements that are present in current programming trends show it: reality television (American Idol or Viva el Sueno) and the massive product integration on those shows. A common denominator there: AT&T provides the texting and additional content. And to close, look for the online social chatter any night the top reality shows are on. Those audiences are engaged with the content and the brands on multi platforms.

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